Updated January 2nd
White Sox rumors are flying hot-and-heavy as Chicago fans and analysts look for the team who will surprise in the coming year as a playoff contender. After watching the Atlanta Braves accomplish it in 2018, followed by the Minnesota Twins breakout year this past season, everyone’s attention now turns to 2020.
There are plenty of teams that could emerge with an active offseason and improved health. However, one team fits the formula to take a big leap next season.
The Chicago White Sox enter the offseason feeling confident about the future. Yoán Moncada, Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are coming off breakthrough campaigns. Meanwhile, more talent is on the way with Nick Madrigal, Luis Robert and Michael Kopech ready to make an impact.
Before anyone takes the field, Chicago must use this offseason to address a few areas of need and put this team in position for a breakout season.
Let’s take a look at the latest rumors coming out of Chicago and what they could mean this winter. We’ll also explore a few moves that the White Sox should make to become a contender in 2020.
White Sox Rumors
Fans in Chicago hoped Robert would make his MLB debut early in the upcoming season, that just became a near certainty. After signing Robert to a six-year extension, a deal that also carries two club options, the White Sox are in position to be even better in 2020.
Robert is coming off a 30-30 campaign in the minors, more than proving that his talent was far too much for his competition in the minor leagues. The 22-year-old instantly becomes the favorite to win the AL’s Rookie of the Year award and Chicago the favorite in the AL Central.
After an extensive search in free agency and on the trade market, the White Sox found their man on Saturday. By signing Keuchel to a three-year deal, Chicago takes another step forward with its eyes on contending in 2020.
While Keuchel’s 3.75 ERA and 1.37 WHIP this past season aren’t particularly impressive, it came in a season where he didn’t join a team until June. He’ll now get to be with the White Sox from the jump at spring training and will benefit from Grandal as his catcher. The addition of a southpaw to this rotation, one with postseason experience, is a great addition for the White Sox.
Chicago showing interest in Red Sox SP David Price
According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the White Sox are among several teams with interest in acquiring Price. The southpaw is available because the Red Sox want to shed salary, so the acquisition cost for the White Sox would be entirely financial.
While durability remains a concern with Price, in addition to the $96 million he’s owed over the next three seasons, he’d be a strong addition for Chicago’s rotation. He recorded a 3.24 ERA before the ASB this past season and was outstanding for Boston in 2018. If the White Sox are willing to eat a majority of his contract, he could be an excellent addition to the rotation.
Team met with Edwin Encarnación’s agents
According to 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine, the White Sox are one of three teams that reportedly met with Encarnación’s representatives. The fit is surprising, given he’d occupy the designated hitter role that would block part of the team’s plan for José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal.
There would certainly be positives to adding the slugger’s bat into this lineup. He’s coming off his eighth consecutive season with 30-plus homers and posted an outstanding .875 OPS in 2019. Ultimately, unless the price point is right for Chicago, it’s unlikely that he joins a team that wants to use the designated hitter spot to keep Abreu and Grandal fresh throughout the year.
Chicago checked in on RP Craig Stammen
According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, the White Sox have looked into the free-agent reliever as a potential boost to their bullpen. The 35-year-old righty is coming off a strong season in the San Diego Padres bullpen.
Stammen recorded a 3.29 ERA and struck out 73 batters across 82 innings this past season in San Diego. He thrived against left-handed hitters with only a .203/.248/.357 slash line allowed. He’ll likely land a one-year contract with a higher average annual value, making him an ideal fit for the White Sox.
White Sox acquire Rangers’ OF Nomar Mazara
After making a strong push early on Tuesday, Chicago ultimately landed the 24-year-old outfielder by trading its No. 6 Steele Walker. Mazara, a left-handed hitter, can immediately fill the team’s need for a corner outfielder and left-handed power bat, though he comes with risk.
Once considered among the game’s top outfield prospects, Mazara hasn’t lived up to his potential since he made his MLB debut as a 20-year-old in 2016. While he posted a career-high .469 SLG in ’19, it also came with a career-worst 6.0% walk rate 23% strikeout rate. He’s more than capable of blasting 500-foot home runs (here), but he remains a project player.
Of course, it’s also important to note that he’s still only 24, just 15 months older than Walker, who hasn’t even played at the Double-A level yet. Mazara also showed signs of progress in 2019, slashing .261/.317/.443 with a .760 OPS before the ASB and a .287/.320/.539 line with a .859 OPS after. The second-half numbers come with concerns – higher strikeout rate, lower hard-hit rate – however, Mazara at least shows a ceiling remains.
Despite an extensive pursuit by the White Sox, the 29-year-old landed in Philadelphia on a five-year deal worth more than $23 million annually. Now with Wheeler off the market, the White Sox must turn their focus to other alternatives.
The front office will almost certainly look into the market for Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole. However, both options could be deemed outside a comfortable price range given the money already spent. If that’s the case, Madison Bumgarner, Michael Pineda, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel exist as potential options.
White Sox “checked in” on Dodgers’ OF Joc Pederson
According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Chicago contacted the Dodgers to check on the availability of the 27-year-old outfielder. Both sides reportedly discussed a deal during the previous winter until the talks ended in January.
Pederson, who is projected to make $8.5 million in his final year of arbitration, would provide the White Sox with the left-handed corner outfielder they have sought. He posted a .538 SLG with 36 home runs last season, including an eye-popping blast in September.
White Sox expressed interest in outfielder Marcell Ozuna
According to The St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Derrick Goold, the White Sox are among the teams with interest in signing Ozuna. After posting a .804 OPS with 29 home runs and 12 stolen bases last season, he rejected a qualifying offer and is tied to a draft-pick forfeiture.
Ozuna spent the past two seasons playing in left field, but he’d shift to right field in Chicago. It’s a position he’s familiar with. Ozuna played 65 games there in his career, but his days as a Gold Glove-caliber defender are gone. He’s capable of hitting 30-plus home runs with a .850-plus OPS. Still, concerns over durability and forfeiture of Chicago’s second-highest draft pick, along with the contract, could push the front office to cost-efficient alternatives.
The White Sox surprised everyone by becoming the first team to sign an All-Star slugger. Grandal received the largest free-agent contract in team history and it’s a deal he should certainly live up to.
The 31-year-old will be an excellent mentor behind the plate for Chicago’s young pitchers. He’s also elite at frame pitching, which will allow him to turn balls outside the zone into critical strikes, a gift that the White Sox will love. Grandal offers the versatility to play at first base and his .926 OPS against right-handed pitchers will be appreciated on days when he needs rest and can still serve as the designated hitter.
While Abreu accepted the team’s qualifying offer earlier, both sides wanted to reach a long-term deal and they accomplished it. Chicago signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 million deal out of Cuba in 2013 and the fit only made more sense now given his success and the team’s expected growth in 2020.
Abreu provides this team with another All-Star bat to pair with Grandal. He’ll also be surrounded by All-Star caliber talent in Moncada and Anderson. This is move strengthens Chicago’s lineup for the future and keeps a leader in the clubhouse for a young team that will need it with its eyes set on playoff contention next season.
Gold Glove winner Yolmer Sanchez cleared waivers, becomes free agent
According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Sanchez cleared waivers after Chicago designated him for assignment on Nov. 25. While the 27-year-old provided outstanding defense at second base, he was projected to make $6 million in arbitration and was a liability with the bat.
Sanchez’s departure opens the door for Madrigal to become Chicago’s regular second baseman. While the White Sox could keep him in the minors to play the arbitration game, Madrigal proved he’s ready for a shot in the majors. A top-40 overall prospect, Madrigal slashed .331/.398/..424 at the Triple-A level last year. While he’s not a Gold Glove-caliber defender, Madrigal’s bat would be a welcome addition to the lineup.
At a time when home runs are rising, pitching still determines who plays in October. Among the lowest team ERAs in MLB last season, seven of the top-10 teams made it to the playoffs.
Giolito proved he could be an ace and Ryu would be a reliable No. 2 starter when healthy. There should also be growth from Reynaldo Lopez, who held opponents to a .257/.319/.427 slash line after the All-Star Break, along with Cease. It would give the White Sox a rotation capable of lowering its rotation ERA (5.30) into the 4.7-4.3 range next year. It’s the kind of jump that would also take pressure off the lineup.
It’s important to remember that Moncada, Anderson and Eloy Jiménez each missed 30-plus games in 2019. They can take further steps forward as hitters and play in 145-plus games next season. The addition of Grandal will also have a dramatic impact for the lineup and rotation. Once Robert and Madrigal are promoted, this lineup can be a top-12 run producer in MLB.
While Ozuna could have given Chicago more stability, he’s just as much of a negative defensively in right field as Mazara. Even worse, he’d have potentially cost the White Sox $20 million more next season. Given the options available, Mazara fit the need and gave this team a potential long-term solution in right field at a lower cost than Ozuna.
Chicago’s front office must take the right approach this offseason. This roster is only a few pieces away from contending in the division, especially with the Cleveland Indians in a transition period and the Twins’ rotation nearly vacant. At a time when the Chicago Cubs want to cut payroll and trade assets, the White Sox have an opportunity to become Chicago’s playoff team.